By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.
“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season. “This, too, shall pass.”
Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.
Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches - all types of people - quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.
These phantom passages include:
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.
None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.
But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.
“Only a few catch on.”
Few catch on because they don’t want to - people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.
“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.
“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text."
Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways
Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.
Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.
Consider these two:
“God works in mysterious ways.”
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).
The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism, says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.
“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying - if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.
Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse - and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it's not in the Bible?
It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”
Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.
That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.
Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.
They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible.
“My hunch on the Ditka quote is that it comes from a quirk of the King James translation,” Wells says. “Ancient Hebrew had a particular way of saying things like, ‘and the next thing that happened was…’ The King James translators of the Old Testament consistently rendered this as ‘and it came to pass.’ ’’
When phantom Bible passages turn dangerous
People may get verses wrong, but they also mangle plenty of well-known biblical stories as well.
Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.
Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.
Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.
But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.
“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.
Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.
Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It's actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation's founding fathers.
The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.
Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.
Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”
“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.
Where do these phantom passages come from?
It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.
Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.
If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?
Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible.
That translation, which marks 400 years of existence this year, had a near monopoly on the Bible market as recently as 50 years ago, says Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.
“If you quoted the Bible and got it wrong then, people were more likely to notice because there was only one text,” he says. “Today, so many different translations are used that almost no one can tell for sure if something supposedly from the Bible is being quoted accurately or not.”
Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.
“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.
But often the milkmaid, the cobbler - and the NFL coach - start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.
“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.
“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”
You all seem to be missing the basic point here... the Bible is full of **** why not add on some more **** ??
Why can't we all just get along? Feelings become so heated over differing interpretations of "the unseen", and it's all so ridiculous. Every person believes (s)he's right. We're all smart enough to recognize that everyone's different... Logical conclusion: Since it is impossible that all people believe the same, like-mindedness must not be God's intent for humanity (if, indeed, God exists). Furthermore, how disgustingly arrogant to presume to know, more than whomever else, the mind of God! If God exists, may we all meditate with fear and trembling upon His/Her will, mind, mood and plan, and may we lean not on our own understanding, but live out our faith to the best of our ability in the just humility of a servant.
Poor take on journalism and ironically, the writer hits perhaps 50% on identifying the incorrect quotes not in the Biblical text of the Old and New Testaments.
The Eve temptation by Satan is the most prominent miss with it captured at the start of Genesis 3. A simple study of the focal point of his article (the Bible) vs the "hearsay" that he publishing would go a long way towards a more credible article.
Satan is never mentioned in the story. Satan wasn't added until 3000 years later. That's the point.
I don't think his goal was to point out all the misinterpretations...this was merely a start to get you to reading the bible with a brain...and figure it all out yourself!
If Satan is real, why hasn't he sued for royalties from book sales?
We can only hope that you never run for office.
"Not only do they get the interpretation wrong..."
Woah, we have another Messiah. He KNOWS the true meaning. Quick exalt him. Sorry, I meant, "Quick, nail him to a tree."
right next to sarah palin, another monument to integrity and honesty.
Proverbs 14:24- He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Proverbs 13:24. Sorry.
So many of the most adamant atheists have no read the Bible. It's fairly common that they have not done much reading at all. Many of them hate books altogether and probably hate learning too. Rather than read and learn what is in the Bible they just ridicule. Ignorance is bliss. Our English language is blessed with a library of excellent literature (novels, poems, essays, short stories) and some are not so excellent. The Bible is a great seller (often touted) and widely read. If one would study the Bible it takes a few years and some focus and some cogitation. If fact, it probably takes about ten years and several iterations to be familiar with it. But it is worth it and time well spent whether or not one becomes a Christian as a consequence.
@Rightturn, I'm an atheist and was an English major in college, so tell me again that atheists don't like to read or learn. I enjoy classic and contemporary novels, as well as reading non-fiction books to expand my personal knowledge on various topics. I would much rather spend the next 10 years doing that than studying a piece of not very well-written fiction (i.e. the Bible). I have read it before, and that was plenty for me. Maybe your blind faith in Christianity gives you personal bias in thinking the Bible is the greatest book ever.
@RightturnClyde, It's because we read that we become atheists.
Hey, all you Bible quoters, unti you can quote the Bible in the original language (usually Greek or Hebrew), shut up. Unless you believe all translations are inspired by God and infallible... then we have a problem. A real "Thou Shalt Not Kill" problem. Oh, wait, you can commit all the atrocities you want as long as you ask for forgiveness. Sorry, my bad.
Sorry, but that's not the way it works. You can't be forgiven by just saying you're sorry. You have to really be sorry and not do it again. There's no forgiveness in repeating a transgression over and over and thinking you're getting away with it by saying you're sorry every time. Whether that's in the Bible or not, it's only common sense.
One of the advantages of being human is that we can communicate our ideas across barriers of time and space, and even across languages. Although original texts offer unique insight, good translations communicate the essential meaning, not just of the Bible, but of human communication in general. I suspect that in a nation more accustomed to polyglotism, comments such as yours would be scarce.
He's getting his quotes from sarah palin, another brainiac.
Think for yourself instead of letting a book doing the thinking for you. Tossing religion in the gutter is the best decision of your life.
What if considering the wisdom that exists in the Bible is part of thinking for myself? Do you not consider wisdom outside of your own when thinking or making decisions?
Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
But don't foget to stone your kid if he's a bad apple... as they say:
A little Deuteronomy Lesson:
21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
@Jim: God also killed all land creatures, save Noah and his family and the animals they gathered into the ark, in a flood before that because they were all evil. I guess my point is, what's your point? We're fortunate God promised never to do that again, or we'd be at high risk these days, again.
The laws given to Israel were given them to keep them living in righteousness before grace through Christ's death on the cross came to take the place of the law, and the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within believers to help guide them without the law.
the best selling sience fiction book ,ever!
Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery genre maybe. Nothing to do with Science.
I'm constantly astounded by the intolerance of the anti-religious crowd.
Intolerance of the anti-religious? just as there is intolerance in the religious crowd. There are heated debates among the anti-religious as to how we need to approach the religious crowd. Most are more tolerant than you think, much to my chagrin.
So you're justifying your intolerance by the intolerance of others. How profound. Interesting that you think there is too much tolerance of people who have religious belief. My guess is that you support the genocide approach – as do several others here.
I'm constantly amazed by the ignorance of the religious crowd.
@John, No. I'm just pointing out hypocrisy.
John, I think it's more so the fact that we've educated ourselves on the matter and decided that religion is not something that should be believed in, and we're tired of the righteous religious trying to tell us that we're ignorant and intolerant. You've made your decisions, and we've made ours. Stop trying to convert us.
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
Proverbs 13:23-25 (in Context) Proverbs 13 (Whole Chapter)
The sentiment is still there for parents to use as an excuse for beating their children. My Mom misquoted this often with me with fly swatter, wet towel (she liked something that snapped and left marks) and such. Apparently it hurt her less than me though I am still wounded and she is awaiting her reward from above for brutalizing her little girl. Good luck with that!
Who the hell cares about any of this fokelore? Get real.
No, you meant get Jesus, right? I think you did.
Apparently you do. You chose to read it and join in the comments. Frankly, the fact that there are almost 60 pages of comments shows just how important people regard scriptures. Even those who don't believe in them are vehemently and viciously against them. Why the passion if it's just not true?
Because what people will allow themselves to do in the name of it is real, even if it isn't.
The bible does say spare the rod spoil the child! What bible u reading?
Better question is which version of the bible are you reading and we can check if that version actually has that passage.
This article is crap
Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."
What is your point. Nothing you quote uses the word spoils. The "preachers" and want-to-be preachers misquote their fairy-tale B S all the time.
I -love- that you spent the time gathering Biblical verses -only- supportive of physically disciplining offspring. I think it's cute that in calling the article 'crap' then spending the time to do that, you proved the basic underlying theory of the article, which is, in case you missed it, that people crop and paraphrase the Bible to support their own lifestyles and morality.
Thank you. It is my contention that Fundamentalist Christians abuse their children and use the Bible to justify it. My Mom did and other kids in the church and the residential school for bad Christians kids and missionaries' kids were incarcerated.When beating did not suffice to shut my mouth about inhumane behavior and bigotry my Mom threatened to send me to this school. God loves you: See these many verses to prove it.
Right. And did you find one that says "Spare the rod, spoil the child"? Because we're not talking about approximations, or people paraphrasing, we're talking about quotes, which must be exactly correct.
Whatever makes you feel better about not having the patience to talk to your children and beat them like someone did you..
LET US NOT TALK OF RELIGION LET US PRATICE IT
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Is the Serpent in the Garden the Devil or something else?
The Bible speaks of a real garden with trees and a real man and woman in that garden. There is no reason to think that the story is not historical and the punishments as real events.
Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"
This creature was real and spoke to Eve and she conversed with him. The Devil even tried to tempt Jesus as he did Eve, to have him sin (Mt.4:1-11). We are given the whole armor of God to stand against the schemes of the devil-Ephesians 6:11.
The word devil is accuser, Satan is a dragon when he comes to destroy, He is a serpent when he deceives, And he disguises himself through his servants, coming as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13-24)
The Devil, Satan, the dragon are all names of the same fallen Cherub that was once in heaven.
Revelation 12:9 “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
We know this is the Devil who had led a rebellion in heaven and took a third of the angels with him in his insurrection. Each time he is also identified as the serpent of old, referring back to when he brought sin into this world through deceiving Eve and having her sin.
Revelation 20:1-2 “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years”
It takes another angel under the authority of God to arrest this creature and banish him to his abode until he is released on last time to test the children of men at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ (Rev.20:7). After this he is cast into the Lake of fire.
LET'S NOT TALK ABOUT RELIGION AND JUST PRACTICE IT!!! NOW LET ME TALK TO YOU ABOUT RELIGION!
No reason not to think the garden of eden is a historical event? You are kidding right? What about the mountain of empirical evidence support scientific reason? The bible is myth and stories.
It is the same creation story as the Epic of Gilgamesh written a long time before the book of Genesis.
Who cares.....the bible is an interesting tale, but that's it.
At best. Unfortunately it's not just an interesting tale. For some it's the source to justify whatever they like.
Actually, it has dozens of interesting stories of dubious historical merit. It is also full of what even the Jews consider myths and poetry.
John 3:3 "Jesus answered "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again"..Which mean no one can understand what bible is saying unless we are born again.
Oh sucks to be me. Now i can't say anything about the Bible. Excellent quote to cover your position on everything you choose to believe no matter what.
The "bible" has been revised, by man, 75 times in the last 160 years. And you want to believe in it?
Aah! Missed interpretation...unless it is misinterpreted on purpose!
"until we are born" does not mean "physically born" but means "spiritually born"...
By the way, I'm not christian... I'm not muslim... In fact, I do NOT believe in a religion at all... Instead, I believe in being born spiritually which can happen without dying physically.
And, THE FACT IS THAT SPIRITUALITY is experienced; it is hard to believe spirituality without experience. So, if you don't believe it don't worry about it... You will experience it someday – just be a nice person by heart – and you will experience it... Doesn't take much.
Tom, your comment just proves that you don't understand the Bible. Did you even take any care to read what the OP said? He quoted Jesus, from the Bible, saying that unless a person is born-again through Him, they can not see the kingdom of heaven. (i.e., unless a person repents and turns to Christ, they won't enter heaven.)
How did you find that to mean that you can't say anything about the Bible? Say what you want. Use it to line your bird cage or wipe your butt if you want. We're all responsible for our own choices.
@me4love – Invented your own religion, have you? Where are your facts? Where's your proof that what you're saying is true? Where's the scientific evidence? You can't possibly just piece something together that suits you and call it FACT. Provide your evidence or keep it to yourself, weirdo delusionalist!
See what Christians have endured? Now, seriously, provide your proof, facts and science, please. (Sorry for name-calling. It was merely to prove a point as to what Christians have endured for 2,000+ years.)
George Carlin on religion. Excellent!
I guarantee that George Carlin regrets his life now. Much more so knowing that his lies and brand of rebellion still continues to affect people. I would even dare to assert that, if George Carlin were able to come back today, he would be on his knees, crying out to you in agony, to forgive him and to urge you to not walk the same path he did.
Jack, you are truly an idiot.
You guarentee it? B S. You sound like a misguided, fairy-tale want-to-be preacher.
Do you guarantee it? Alright, prove it. If you are not lying, give us your proof.
George Carlin brought more truth and ease from pain in one show than any preacher ever did in a whole life time of preaching.
George Carlin was a jester who took digs at establishment for fame and money. That was his motivation. He wasn't out to spread truth, only his grossly distorted sense of himself.
Yes. I guarantee it. 100%. You want proof? You'll get my proof at the same time your proof can be given. At death. That is the only time absolute proof will be known by all. Until then, we're all responsible for the choices we make and their eternal consequences.
Jack, I'm pretty certain you're wrong. I asked George if he regretted his life and he was strangely silent on the subject. You'd think that for a guy who who never failed to have a comment ready on every subject he would have had something to say if he did have regrets. (Hey, if you can talk to God I can talk to dead guys. At least mine has been proven to exist at one point in time.)
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.